Why You Should Write Your Health History, And How To Do It!
When I start working with a new client one of the first things I do is to start building their health history. This helps me get an idea of their "big picture" which will help us get to the root cause of their concerns.
A few weeks ago before I met with my new functional medicine doctor, I put myself through this same exercise. While the office staff did send me a stack of client intake forms to complete before my visit, I wanted my doctor to have a very clear understanding of my story that went beyond their standard intake forms.
But instead of using my standard Health History form, I took a narrative approach. I opened a simple Google document and just started writing, starting with my birthdate and birthplace.
Start With Your Birthdate and Place
That might be an odd place to start with, especially for someone being seen for SIBO and IBS. But your birthdate and place are important because it will start to provide your practitioner clues about the environment you were born into, which might be a factor today.
For example, it would be an important fact for a child born in Flint, Michigan this month to note this in 30 years while writing their own health history. You get the point, right?
Thereafter, note significant details that you can remember that you feel is important for your practitioner to be aware of. It could be physiological, psychological, emotional - anything that YOU FEEL is important for them to know about you.
Here's an excerpt from my personal health history from my childhood years:
"Elementary School: Dairy intolerance. Had doctors note to serve me juice instead of milk at school lunch. Still ate cheese and ice cream, though."
I have a very bad reaction to dairy so it's important for my doctor to know that I started experiencing this as far back as elementary school. And yet, even though I react badly to dairy, I continued to eat cheese and ice cream. This is important to note because when we continue to eat foods that our body cannot tolerate, it creates a stress on our digestive system. That can lead to conditions such as leaky gut (which incidentally is one of the things that I might be suffering from today).
The next thing I note is that I began to have acne when I hit puberty. It got so bad that my mother took me to see a dermatologist in my early teen years. The dermatologist put me on erythromycin (pills) and benzoyl peroxide (topical cream) which are both antibiotics. The drugs worked for a while until I developed cystic acne which then led to doctors prescribing stronger antibiotics which I took well into my adult years.
That is over twenty years of taking antibiotics. As a teenager, I thought they were magic because they made the gross pimples go away. But now we know that antibiotics damage the gut. And because I started taking them at such a young age, and for a prolonged period of time, I feel it's important for my doctor to know this when trying to determine what's the root cause of my IBS.
Fast forwarding to adulthood, I note that in 2004 I lost a significant amount of weight by changing my diet and beginning to exercise.
Then I note that in 2008 I started a new job that was very stressful and caused a lot of anxiety. Incidentally, it was about that same time that my body began to be resistant to weight loss.
It is also in 2008 that I began training for half-marathons, then full marathons. I was an endurance athlete for a full five years.
This data, from 2004 to 2013 is important to note. Not only does it tell my doctor that I was able to lose a significant amount of weight, but then I became unable to despite intense exercise and a clean diet. It also tells my doctor that the resistant weight loss began when I experienced stress, in the form of intense training AND job-related anxiety.
When I first saw my gastroenterologist last summer, I did not have my health history documented. So when I saw him for an elevated liver panel and IBS symptoms his advice to me was, "You need to start eating healthy and start exercising." To which I was responded with, "But..." then proceeded to give him a quick synopsis of my history.
None of the client intake forms I completed went into this much detail. So how was my doctor supposed to know all this about me? Once I shared most of my health history (the cliffnotes version), it completely changed his advice for me, and what our next steps were.
The same is true for my functional medicine doctor. During my hour-long initial visit, we reviewed my health history chronologically, and in great detail. We also discussed my parents and grandparents health histories. All of the information helped her decide what labs to order for me, and will also help her, when we get all of the lab results back, to build a treatment and healing plan for me.
An Eye-Opening Exercise
Personally, going through the exercise of writing my health history has been very eye-opening.
In writing my health history, I even went as far as to contact the university I attended. I remember having to see doctors quite a bit when I was in college. So I contacted the school to obtain my medical records. It was so interesting to read doctors' notes because a lot of the symptoms I was seen for then were precursors or early indicators, for what I'm experiencing now.
Knowing what I know now, from what I've learned in nutrition school, as well as Digestive Intensive (a course I'm currently taking), I can see how my experiences over the years has led to where I am right now.
I've taken the Myers-Briggs test many times and each time my results are always the same - INTJ. I find that the person I judge the most is myself, especially when it comes to my health, fitness, weight and overall appearance. I have been very critical of myself, especially for the decisions that I've made in my most recent years.
Writing my health history has helped improve my relationship with the story of my life. It has helped me connect the dots and realize that much of my health concerns have been 20+ years in the making. In turn, it has helped me start to feel kinder and more compassionate toward myself, which is a huge part of the healing process.
This is why I strongly advocate journaling - whether it be a food journal, fitness log, morning pages - or all of the above.
When you are sick, injured or need to see a practitioner for any other reason, have your health history ready and let it be a tool to build a partnership with you and your practitioner.
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Naomi Nakamura is a certified Holistic Health Coach who takes a holistic approach through functional nutrition. Through her weekly show, The Live FAB Live Podcast, coaching programs, and safer skincare solutions, she helps people with acne and other chronic skin issues clear up their skin by teaching them where food meets physiology and how food, gut health, stress, and toxins are intricately connected to the health and appearance of our skin. Naomi resides in the San Francisco Bay Area and can often be found romping around the city with her puppy girl, Coco Pop! Connect with Naomi at: Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Pinterest.